Swimming – Loch Etive where only boats, bikes or feet can reach.

Just above Oban there is a beautiful 30km sea loch meandering through mountains and under an iconic bridge that is sure to be found on many outdoor swimmer’s bucket lists. The loch is believed to have found its name through the Gaelic goddess associated with its waters, and the Gaelic meaning “little fierce one”, which quite synonymously describes the one-day tour with Take to the Water on Loch Etive.

The loch is quite an accessible one, through a windy single-track road through Glen Etive, but sometimes having a road right to a dipping location doesn’t give as much opportunity to explore the wild landscape. For this tour Lynda linked up with Etive Boat Trips, to find some of the harder to reach parts of the loch and bring that extra little bit of wonder to the swims.

Eleven swimmers met up with Lynda at Dunstaffnage harbour before boarding the boat, all with nervous excitement as we met kindred members of our swim tribe. The wonderful skipper Kyle and assistant Stuart; who not to jump ahead of ourselves, took wonderful care of everybody on the day.

Then it was time to hop aboard the 10-metre Blyth catamaran aptly named “The Etive Explorer”

The starting point was actually entering Loch Etive and making sure to get the right tide to do so. For anyone looking at a map you can’t tell where the Firth of the Lorn (the open sea) ends and Loch begins, especially in calm waters as the concealed barrier that lies beneath is hidden. That’s where The Falls of Lora come in, and it’s not a mainland waterfall as you may think. As the tide recedes into the open sea, Loch Etive’s rocky shelf is exposed and creates an impressive set of rapids. Eddies and wakes, and a turbulent power of water below the Connel bridge….. but as you read above Lynda and the team had made sure they were avoided, as boats and rocks don’t usually make the best of friends.

Sailing down the sea loch heading east through the dramatic and beautiful landscape. Surrounded by Scottish mountains, with Ben Cruachan & Ben Staray to the right and Beinn Mheadhonach & Beinn Trilleachan to the left. It was only right that on a beautifully calm and atmospheric boat ride that titanic moments were re-enacted at the front of the vessel as the team drank in the magnificent and truly Scottish scenery. These types of moments are often sobering, especially in the conditions these swimmers had. Bringing with them a feeling of peace amongst the sound of waves brushing the boat and the gentle breeze on their faces.

After sailing for a couple of hours the boat was anchored near a little jetty with a small sandy beach about three quarters of the way down the loch. With a first swim like this, especially off a boat it can take time for enthusiastic and sometimes apprehensive nerves to settle and just getting into the water is the best way to do this. On this particular trip ‘The Etive Explorer’ had a luxurious ‘dive lift’ so you could enter the water in style, with Lynda being the first in the water to set any worried mind at ease. Then like a synchronised dance each swimmer donned their tow float and entered the glorious waters of Loch Etive for their maiden voyage, tow floats following swimmers as always.

This first swim was relatively short but Lynda could feel the bravado increase with each stroke and the nerves melting away against the still gently saline water; even this far down the loch. One of the swimmers in particular had a fear of deep water, which is not uncommon, and although the areas they swam averaged a four-metre depth, it was a huge accomplishment for her. Especially when you have a look at Loch Etive’s 150m maximum depth.

After hopping back on board, the Etive explorers set sail to the top of the loch, where the river enters and where most visitors stop their trip down the glen to marvel at the view. With the most photographed mountain Buachaille Etive Mor and its partner Buachaille Etive Beag standing proud in front of them, albeit shrouded in cloud. This scenery which surrounded them was luscious and green and full of wildlife. Over the course of the day they spotted the occasional red deer, a golden eagle and even some seals with their new pups.

They anchored for lunch and went completely against what any parent told them as a child, they proceeded to unpack sandwiches, cakes and other tasty treats to tuck into before their swim. Some may say it was to make drying and pulling swim suits out of their bags easier, but who’s to know. They topped up their drinks from the boats kettle and one or two may have found a sneaky penguin bar on their travels. Conscious of time, lunch was not filled with as much faff as usual due to strict timings of their return journey under the Connel Bridge. No-one wanted to be caught up in those rapids, so they disrobed and were straight into the water for a second time. This spot had a perfect scenic back drop of dramatic mountains and stretched into a longer swim towards the left bank of Etive.

After the swim and drinks drunk it was time to journey back west for their third and final swim of the day. On their journey stopping to watch seals, that were firstly mistaken for rocks as they lay in camouflage along the water’s edge. It always seems a little strange to see a seal and in the same vista as mountains and trees, but that’s the beauty of these inlet sea lochs.

The final swim was another beautiful sandy beach where swimmers and Lynda did the obligatory joining of hands for a team pose before exploring the shore line. Lynda could see the swimmers were reluctant to get back on the boat and were champing for one final adventure, so encouraged everyone to take turns in jumping of the dive platform into the loch. Splashes accompanied by squeals of excitement and a round of applause from everyone observing, it was just a shame there were no score cards! This is the real beauty of adventure, being able to shed those adult responsibilities that bind us and find that childlike silliness once again. Thanks to the boat crew swimmers will be able to take some of that feeling home as they captured the antics on camera.

Due to the extra jumping it was cutting it fine to get across the developing falls beneath the surface. Swimmers witnessed the beginnings of the resurgence of the rapids, water pooling as if it was boiling from beneath with patches of very still water amongst subtle swirls and bubbles. It was only a matter of time before they would be churning and showing off the water’s strength. It was also a real accomplishment to squeeze all the adventure out of the day as physically possible.

You can say what you want about swimmers, but to be able to keep faff to a minimum have a day full of adventure and still make it back to the harbour in time, is a badge of honour for all involved. It’s also the beauty of having someone else organise the adventure for you, you don’t have to be clock watching with Lynda and you’re free to marvel in the perfect day amongst the Scottish waters. Swimmers really had a sense of happiness that was priceless, even though a few may have eyed up the mere £6 million catamaran that was spotted at the harbour.

Goodbyes were exchanged on shore, and future rendezvous implied, before swimmers hit the road home full of new experiences, friendships and a bunch of sparkly new swim memories.

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